Down two scores in the fourth quarter, Augusta's offense started going for broke.
Tristan Finch heaved the ball downfield for big pass plays, including a 19-yard touchdown to Anthony Castillo to pull within eight points. The Orioles got a stop on defense with 2:14 left and no timeouts to give themselves one more chance.
Finch engineered another good drive, but the Orioles' valiant effort came up a few pass completions short. Clearwater held on for a 28-20 win on Augusta's home field.
"I just told them I'm proud of them, I love them, and we got to get back to work," coach Roger Robben said he told his players after the game. "We've got Andale next week for Homecoming. Got to learn from this game and move on."
On the final drive, Finch extended plays by scrambling before finding receivers downfield. Kalaeb Bratton made two tough catches. Castillo caught a deep pass. But after the Orioles reached Clearwater's 33 with 45 seconds left, they couldn't finish the rally.
"We didn't come out the second half the way we needed to," Robben said, "and Clearwater came after us. Clearwater's kids came out and played hard and made plays, and we didn't make as many."
The first quarter was a scoreless defensive struggle. Greg Slaton made a couple of tackles and helped on a sack along with Colby Willis. In the second quarter, Kaleb Laubhan made another key sack. Connor Hurst later made a tough catch for an interception.
Augusta's offense started making some big plays. Tristan Finch connected with Hurst down the sideline for a 38-yard gain to get inside the red zone. Trae Goken capped the drive with a one-yard score. Augusta missed the extra point and trailed 7-6.
Finch hit Castillo for a 14-yard pass, and later Finch threw a jump ball on the left side of the end zone for Hurst, who beat his defender for the 27-yard touchdown catch. The Orioles led 12-7 at halftime after the 2-point conversion failed.
Clearwater broke down the Orioles' defense in the third quarter. Quarterback Chad Reibenspies completed a short pass that turned into a 78-yard catch-and-run. Reibenspies later busted loose for a 97-yard touchdown run on third down after the Orioles' defense seemed to have Clearwater pinned deep.
"Huge. Those made the difference in the game," Robben said of the two plays. "It was missed tackles and missed assignments. Those are correctable errors."
Finch finished 15-of-32 for 299 yards and two touchdowns. Hurst had five receptions for 127 yards and a score. Castillo had six catches for 158 yards and a score. Goken had two receptions for 28 and Bratton had two for 26 yards.
On the ground, Clearwater finished with 300 yards on 30 carries. The Orioles only managed 63 yards on 43 carries as Clearwater's defense clamped down in the second half.
Page 2 of 2 - Roy Chen and Dillon Thompson both had four tackles. Finch had five to lead the Orioles.